Positive Living Newsletter

To Flourish Once More: A Renewal & Restoration of Hope after Despair

Anastasia A. Sfakis
Anastasia A. Sfakis, Psy.D.
Point Park University

Many years ago, I had the privilege of experiencing life in semi-rural Ireland; an experience that would prove to be pivotal during a time of profound personal sorrow. Life, as I had known it for nearly a decade, had been derailed by circumstances that fell outside of the realm of my mere human control. These circumstances brought me to a precipice of desperation, where I found myself besieged with hopelessness, unable to grasp hold of a purpose or find meaning in my struggle. In an attempt to seek solace, I moved to a small town in Ireland hoping that I might find happiness, although what I found proved far greater; I found hope.

Ireland with its lush green hills, moss-filled woods and vast fields brimming with an array of flora, is characteristically sustained by an abundant amount of rainfall. Rain, often symbolic of renewal and growth, gives and sustains natural life while causing the environment to flourish even after periods of dormancy and decay. Life springs forth from the ground, bringing with it a sense of hope; a hope that what was once dead will be reborn to flourish once again. During my time there, being a quiet observer to the ecosystem’s delicate dance of life, death, and rebirth, I was filled with a sense of awe and a connectedness to nature in ways which I had not previously experienced. This emotion of awe began to shift my despair and hopelessness enabling a reframing of my circumstances of suffering within a larger meaningful context in service of something greater than myself. When my time in Ireland drew to a close, I found myself on different path, one in pursuit of meaning in service to others, one that would lead me to where I am today.

Viktor Frankl proposed that there are three ways in which we uncover meaning in our lives: the Attitudinal, or how we choose to respond to difficult experiences or unavoidable suffering; the Creative, or what we bring into existence by work or deed; and the Experiential, or experiencing someone or something that we value or love. I find my experience in Ireland to have been of the latter, a spiritually transcendent experience that shifted my self-perception and cut a path to growth and fulfillment. I have learned to hold gratitude for the suffering that I endured because in the absence of it, I may never have experienced the beauty and restoration of hope as I did then.

As the season begins to change and winter’s grey-brown palette is slowly transformed by spring rain, I find myself once again filled with awe and a gratefulness for that profound reminder of hope renewed.